Have changes to the A9 made (arguably) the most dangerous road in Scotland any safer?

Speed camera warning sign

The recent tragic events on the A9 have further heightened the debate over whether these changes to the A9 have helped improve (arguably) the most dangerous road in Scotland.

Discussions regarding the dualling of the A9 have been ongoing for years. The current project is expected to complete in 2025 at a cost of around £3bn.

A9 is a dangerous road because of driver behaviour

The A9 is a dangerous road, there is no getting away from it. The main danger on the road however is driver behaviour.

The A9 safety group was set up in July 2012. It’s aim? To improve driver behaviour. Their solution? Average Speed Cameras (ASC).

Has Average Speed Cameras on the A9 improved road safety?

The A9 safety group have collected statistics since their formation but have ASC had any positive effects on driver behaviour and road safety?

Many concerns were raised prior to their installation, but how have these been addressed?

1. Average speed cameras will make the journey much longer!

One of the main changes implemented at the time of the Average Speed Cameras was the increase of the HGV speed limit to 50mph. This was implemented to maintain traffic flow and reduce frustration.

Statistics from mid 2013 to end of 2015 shows an increase in journey time every day of the week, but not as significant as you might expect.

The biggest increase is 19 minutes on a Thursday, and as low as 9 minutes on a Friday. Average across the board is only 14 minutes.

2. This is just a money making exercise!

Have the average speed cameras increased the number of speeding fines? Police Scotland are quoted as saying, in the first 14 months of ASC there has been an “eightfold decrease in the number of people caught speeding”.

At the end of the day, if you are speeding you are breaking the law, and are punished by either fixed penalty or worse. The purpose of a speeding fine is both punishment, and deterrent.

If the financial return from the ASC is greater, this probably shows that the fixed cameras were ineffective.

How many regular users of the A9 could tell you exactly where each fixed camera was, or the regular points radars were deployed?

3. Drivers’ will still speed!

This is simply not the case for the majority.

There is no way to completely avoid driver’s speeding, but the cameras have reduced speeding generally from 1 in 3 to 1 in 20 vehicles.

For those choosing to be 10mph+ over speed limit, this has been reduced by 97%.

If Dalwhinnie is taken as an approximate mid-point, being historically a dangerous part of the road with access to the west coast route: in March 2012 approximately 37% of vehicles exceeded 60mph, in March 2015, this was under 10%.

So has ASC reduced speeding – undoubtedly it has.

4. Will this reduce the number of injuries and deaths on this road?

While the ASC have definitely reduced the number of injuries between Perth and Inverness (2012 was 115, 2015 was 38), it has not adequately reduced the number of fatal accidents.

There were an average of 8 individuals sadly killed on the A9 for the three years before the commencement of the ASC, and 6 the year following. While this is a reduction on the average, there were still 6 people killed the year before installation.

Prior to the ASC a regular cause of accidents on the A9 was head on collisions, and often as a result of overtaking. The impact of speeding may have been a factor, but this was why the primary focus of the A9 Safety Group was overtaking.

If frustration causes accidents, and results in dangerous overtaking, the only way to avoid this completely is to dual the A9 from start to finish.

There is no doubt the ASC have reduced driver’s speed, and reduced the number of injuries, but even one fatal accident is one too many.

The only solution is to dual the road. The ASC may make the road safer meantime, but until 2025, it will still be a dangerous road.

Safety advice for drivers on the A9

As summer approaches and the inevitable increase in traffic on the A9 begins:

  • adhere to the speed cameras
  • avoid overtaking on single carriageway unless necessary, and
  • be patient, a 14 minute delay is worth it.

Hopefully the summer of 2015 can be repeated with no tragic deaths on the A9.